Report: Multiple Cavs vets were frustrated by how J.B. Bickerstaff treated the team

Jesse Cinquini
5 Min Read
David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

According to reports from both and The Athletic, several veteran players on the Cleveland Cavaliers became aggravated with head coach J.B. Bickerstaff’s modus operandi.

“But Bickerstaff’s tenure was mired by post-All-Star break slumps each of the last three years and a Play-In collapse in 2022,” Joe Vardon, Shams Charania and Jason Lloyd wrote. “Last year, the Cavs entered the playoffs as the No. 4 seed and were dismissed by the New York Knicks in five games.

“The second guessing of Bickerstaff started there. Multiple veterans in the Cavs locker room grew frustrated with Bickerstaff for treating the Cavs as a young team with much to learn, instead of as a team ready to contend. They were also less than enthused by the Cavs’ offense last spring and into the first part of this season. [Donovan] Mitchell was among them. Players would leave practices and morning shootarounds wondering aloud: ‘Why did we even do that? What did we accomplish’ — so perplexed by the lack of structure and intensity in the workouts.”

A source allegedly compared Bickerstaff to former Philadelphia 76ers head coach Brett Brown, who saw some success coaching the 76ers early in star big man Joel Embiid’s career but wasn’t able to lead the team past the second round of the playoffs.

“Several other players, privately and publicly, have questioned Bickerstaff’s tactics, rotations, minute allocation, schemes, in-game management, adjustments and practice habits at various points,” Chris Fedor wrote. “There is wonder about whether he can help take this franchise to next level, with one source using a comparison to former 76ers coach Brett Brown, who led Philadelphia through The Process but was ultimately replaced by Doc Rivers. Is Bickerstaff the right coach for this team?”

On top of that, there have been recent rumblings that describe Mitchell and Bickerstaff’s relationship as “deteriorating.”

“There have also been whispers about a deteriorating relationship between Bickerstaff and Mitchell — and with Mitchell’s contract situation looming over this offseason, it’s fair to wonder how much that could influence Cleveland’s decision,” Fedor wrote.

The Cavaliers were eliminated from the 2024 NBA Playoffs on Wednesday after the team lost Game 5 of its second-round series against the Boston Celtics by 15 points.

Cleveland was within striking distance for most of the contest, though, thanks to perhaps the best offensive performance of Evan Mobley’s playoff career. The 22-year-old big man scored a playoff career-high 33 points on 15-of-24 shooting from the field while also racking up seven rebounds, four assists, one steal and two blocks.

If there’s one positive takeaway to glean from the Cavaliers suffering a gentleman’s sweep at the hands of the Celtics, it is the play of Mobley throughout the series, not just in Game 5. He suited up in all five games and averaged 21.4 points, 9.4 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game on 62.7 percent shooting from the field and 73.3 percent from the free-throw line.

Perhaps this series would have spanned longer than just five games if the Cavaliers didn’t have to deal with the injury bug. While it’s worth noting that Celtics star Kristaps Porzingis didn’t play at all in the second round, Mitchell was sidelined for Games 4 and 5, Caris LeVert missed the deciding Game 5 and big man Jarrett Allen was sidelined for the entirety of the series.

The Cavaliers did struggle with injuries all series long, but considering they were still thoroughly outplayed by a Celtics team that was missing one of its top players in Porzingis, Cleveland fans shouldn’t be surprised if Bickerstaff’s future with the team continues to come under question in the coming days.

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Jesse is an aspiring sports journalist that has previously worked as a staff writer at SB Nation’s CelticsBlog and The Knicks Wall.